Ol' Billy Joe Shaver has been around for quite a while; in the late 1970s he caught the tail wind of the Willie Nelson "outlaw" scene, and a few years back he resurfaced in full-on, grizzled-veteran mode, celebrated by the alterna-country crowd as a for-real old-timer type. With his rough, gravel-lined voice and chunky poetry, Shaver is a true hard-country icon... Here's a quick look at his work.
Billy Joe Shaver "Restless Wind -- The Legendary Billy Joe Shaver: 1973-1987" (Razor & Tie, 1995)
Billy Joe Shaver "Greatest Hits" (Compadre, 2007)
Billy Joe Shaver "Old Five And Dimers Like Me" (Capricorn, 1973)
Billy Joe Shaver "When I Get My Wings" (Capricorn, 1976) (LP)
There's a strong, definitely discernable Allman-esque Southern rock strain that runs through much of this album, which isn't too surprising, since Richard Betts is one of the many pickers on hand to propel this album forwards. Other '70s stalwarts such as Scott Boyer, Charlie Daniels and Bonnie Bramlett add to the solid set; there's a hard-rockin' tone that threatens to dominate, though Shaver's mud-fence, rootsy vocals keep things country... He's kind of a roughshod mix of Merle Haggardand Joe Ely... and that ain't bad! Good album, worth tracking down.
Billy Joe Shaver "I'm Just An Old Chunk Of Coal" (Columbia, 1981)
Billie Joe Shaver "Salt Of The Earth" (Sony/Lucky Dog, 1987/2000)
This album has a swell little theme album about The Working Man, full of shameless lyrical posturing, backed by Mr. Shaver with a ton of talent and charisma up the wazoo... Every performance on here leaps right out at you, much moreso than on his rather wordy recent efforts. Worth checking out!
Billy Joe Shaver "Tramp On Your Street" (Volcano, 1993)
Billy Joe Shaver "Unshaven: Live At Smith's Olde Bar" (Volcano, 1995)
Billy Joe Shaver "Highway Of Life" (Justice, 1996)
Shaver "Victory" (New West, 1998)
A stark, stripped-down, emotionally direct album, featuring plainspoken vocals from Billy Joe Shaver, and subtle, sympathetic accompaniment from his son, Eddy. The title alludes partly to Billy Joe's mother, Victory Odessa Watson (as she's listed on his birth certificate, which is reproduced in the album art...) and partly to the religious-redemptive theme that runs through the album... Initially I thought, uh-oh -- this is going to be one of those overly literary country-poet albums... But Shaver's soft-spoken, earnest delivery will win you over. This disc seems not only heartfelt and soul-searching, but soulful and artistically rich as well; songcraft was not sacrificed on the altar of introspection... Hardly! If anything, Shaver brings emotional depth to his Christianity that is sorely lacking in most contemporary country gospel... for him this isn't a way to make a living, it's a way to live his life. Definitely worth checking out.
Billy Joe Shaver "Electric Shaver" (New West, 1999)
Billy Joe Shaver "The Earth Rolls On" (New West, 2001)
This was Shaver's last album recorded with his guitarist son, Eddy, who died on New Year's Eve, and by and large it's a pretty good record. The best songs are tuneful backwoods honkytonk toss-offs, such as "Hard Headed Heart" and "New York City Girls," which remind me of his understated releases on Columbia, 'way back when. It's when he gets all rocket-science-y and craftsmanlike that my attention starts to wander - Billy Joe's got a touch of Townes Van Zandt-style grandiloquence that makes some songs sound a bit forced. And although I don't wish to speak ill of the dead, his son Eddy's muscle-bound, flashy guitar work was a bit too blaring and Stevie Ray Vaughn-ed out for my tastes. (Possibly they mixed the guitars up higher than normal, in tribute... regardless, it seems a bit intrusive...) On balance, though, this is a record worth checking out; it might not be as mind-numbingly fab as the folks at No Depression would have you believe, but it's still pretty tasty. As a songwriter, Billy Joe's got a great way with a melody, and as a performer, he's much more vigorous and engaging than, say, Merle Haggard, who he's frequently compared to. At least Shaver's heart is really in it. One wonders where things will go from here, but so far so good.
Billy Joe Shaver "Freedom's Child" (Compadre, 2002)
Billy Joe Shaver & Kinky Friedman "Live From Down Under" (Sphincter, 2002)
Billy Joe Shaver "Try And Try Again" (Compadre, 2003)
Billy Joe Shaver "Billy And The Kid" (Compadre, 2004)
Billy Joe Shaver/Various Artists "A Tribute To Billy Joe Shaver: Live" (Compadre, 2005)
Billy Joe Shaver "The Real Deal" (Compadre, 2005)
Billy Joe Shaver "Storyteller: Live At The Bluebird, 1992" (Sugar Hill, 2007)
(Produced by Billy Joe Shaver & Gerd Mueller)
A fine, funky, informal acoustic set, recorded in 1992 at the Bluebird Cafe, Nashville's famous, fabled venue for singer-songwriter types. Shaver was backed by his son, the late Eddie Shaver, and bassist Keith Christopher -- a quiet, compact threesome that play in such an understated style that the lyrics become even that much more poignant and penetrating. It's a fairly unadorned, unvarnished performance -- the sound quality is modest, the musicianship is unflashy, the pace is unhurried and the tone is laconic and utterly heartfelt. The set itself is packed with "hits" -- songs such as "Honky Tonk Heroes," "Old Chunk Of Coal," "Georgia On A Fast Train" and the then-new "Live Forever"... All great stuff, but also few surprises. What makes this record a treat are Shaver's asides, his unselfconscious, self-effacing recollections of days gone by, the wild times when he ran with the wind, burned bridges, and lost his loves, and almost his lost his life. Like his songwriting, this onstage patter is direct and down-to-earth, and shows the same fragility and strengths he explores in his music -- fans and newcomers alike will be drawn to him like moths to a flame.
Billy Joe Shaver/Varous Artists "Everybody's Brother" (Compadre, 2007)
Hick Music Index